Tuesday, 22 June 2010

‘Feed’ – Mira Grant (Orbit)


This one goes out to Gav who mentioned in a comment on his blog, some months ago now, that he would like to see me review some longer books on the blog. ‘Feed’ took some chipping away at, what with one thing and another, but five hundred and seventy four pages later... I made it. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction for you Gav! I might even be warming up to tackle something even longer...

‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’ is like a black hole for anything that’s zombie related. If it’s out there then you can bet that it is slowly being drawn towards the blog for some kind of review or feature; that’s just the way it is. There are some places that I would never expect to see a zombie novel claw it’s way out of; with its predominantly sci-fi and fantasy list Orbit Books is definitely one of those places so a zombie novel from them was always going to pique my interest. Add that to my natural leaning towards zombie fiction and ‘Feed’ automatically jumped right to the top of the reading pile. It’s a shame then that the book didn’t turn out to be quite as enjoyable as I was expecting...

What do you get if you cross a cure for cancer with a cure for the common cold? In a word... zombies! You also get a lot of characters who smoke but that’s besides the point... Blogger coverage of the initial outbreak has made bloggers the ‘must read’ source of news and they will go to any lengths to improve their ratings. Georgia and Shaun Mason are bloggers with a hook on one of the biggest stories of the year. What they don’t know is that what they’re involved in is only part of a story that is even bigger. A story that will literally eat them alive if they’re not very careful...

One of the most important things about any zombie novel is whether the author chooses to explain just what caused the whole mess in the first place. People like George Romero and Robert Kirkman have proved all too well that having an element of mystery to a zombie outbreak can pay real dividends in terms of putting the focus totally on the story. If you’re going to take things in the other direction then you need to make damn sure that what you’re pushing is going to do the business!
Miriam Grant’s explanation behind her outbreak of zombies is superbly done but it hobbles the story at the same time...

Miriam Grant is a lady who has clearly spent far too long thinking about how a zombie outbreak might occur and what the ramifications might be for any survivors. On the face of it, this is nothing but a good thing. The root causes of Grant’s outbreak have been thoroughly thought out and transferred to the page with the same care and attention. I’m hard pressed to think of a speculative book (that I’ve read) that’s had as much thought put into it as this one. You actually don’t deserve the amount of thought that Mira Grant has put into this book. What the reader gets, as a result, is a post apocalyptic world where no stone has been left unturned. It’s the ultimate picture of life after the zombie apocalypse... or is it?

Miriam Grant is having a lot of fun showing us around the world that she has created but sometimes I was left wondering if she was having a little too much fun at the expense of the story itself. ‘Feed’ is a solemn look at how a future America might function after the zombie apocalypse but when there aren’t actually that many zombies to be seen over the course of the plot...? I’ll happily admit that my ‘ideal zombie cast’ runs into the thousands (at least) and I’m not going to get this every time. Having said that though, ‘Feed’ is meant to be a book about zombies. Stop telling me about the safeguards, insurance premiums, disease control measures etc and start giving me the good stuff! Or is ‘Feed’ really a book about zombies? You could say that the book’s concentration on political skulduggery and the evolution of the news media makes it an entirely different read... that just happens to have zombies in it. It’s all very detailed but all that detail left me feeling sorry for the poor story underneath that was doing its best to get out... It is a good one with a mystery that creeps up on you (just when you’re not expecting it) and demands to be solved.

Whichever way round it is, when the zombies do appear Grant really kicks things into gear and shows us what she can do with zombies if she really sets her mind to it. The opening chapter is nothing short of awesome with our heroes cornered by zombies and having to take extreme measures in order to escape. Every so often, over the course of the book Grant throws zombies at us and, without fail, it rocks every single time. Once again, Grant has put a lot of thought into her world but this time it comes with a generous side order of adrenaline and blood, just the way it should be. It’s just a shame that the rest of the book couldn’t be like this...

Grant’s characters encounter similar difficulties (to the zombies themselves) in that the sheer complexity of Grant’s world doesn’t really give the characters a chance to breathe. When you’re talking about your main characters that’s a real problem. Georgia and Shaun Mason stand out in their own right but you don’t get much of a feel for who they really are. Bloggers in ‘Feed’ are divided into three distinct groups and what I found was that both Shaun and Georgia adhered to the qualities of their respective groups without really going beyond that.
Again though, when Grant does give her characters a chance to stretch their legs she does it in style. Grant really captures what it must feel like to live in the middle of a zombie infestation and all the grim realities that must entail. I may have shed a little tear at a certain point very near the end; Grant is that good but only when she wants to be...

‘Feed’ was a gripping yet ultimately frustrating read where I ended up learning a lot about the setting at the expense of the story and its characters. Not the balance that I look for when I’m reading...
There was more than enough here though to have me interested in picking up the next book and seeing what happens next. ‘Feed’ is the start of a series with potential but it could go either way...

Seven out of Ten

6 comments:

N. R. Alexander said...

Hmmm.

I was really digging the cover, too.

Anonymous said...

Grant/McGuire had the same problem in her urban fantasy series (Rosemary and Rue ...). I think I'll pass.

Monika

gav (nextread.co.uk) said...

You can't blame me :P though it is almost two books for you in one...

...anyway you should like zombies...

... glad it didn't put you off those weighty books.

What u reading next? Peter F Hamilton? Usually 1000+ :)

Anonymous said...

HI Graeme Got my copy of 'Feed' that I won in your competition! Can't wait to start reading it! Many thanks again for this generous prize!
Victoria Navin :)

Rabid Fox said...

Hmmm. I had no idea the book was so lengthy. I figured it'd be a 350 pager, but I guess Mira Grant had a lot to say. Despite frustrations, I'll be keeping this one on the wish list.

Doing it right, the first time. said...

I, by contrast, love the ways this book consciously sends up all the conventions of zombie movies (e.g. thousands of zombies without plot, no explanation, women who are screaming fools, and on and on), absolutely intentionally.

As someone who adores long, smart books that play with the readers' expectations, I was completely absorbed by Feed and think it, and some she's published under McGuire (along with the Sparrow Hill Road online material) are some of the best speculative fiction being written at the moment. For instance, I loathe most retellings of Celtic tales, but her version of the Tam Lin story is actually innovative and most definitely not sucky. What's there not to like about assessments of human interactions and the difficulties faced by justifiably jaded characters who keep getting betrayed within a layered (as in full of literary and contemporary allusion) speculative setting?